Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Unorthodox Journey to the Knowledge that Spanking is Completely Jacked Up

I have not spoken out on parenting issues much on here.  I'm feeling compelled to now, since my family is making a transition into a more gentle parenting style to share what I have learned along the way about the very controversial topic of spanking.

I was raised by parents who spanked, who were raised by parents who spanked, so on and so forth through the generations.  Prior to becoming a mother, naturally I thought kids needed spankings in order to know right from wrong, develop self-discipline, and "know who's boss".  My parents were the type to bewail the fact that society had changed and not enough children were receiving corporal punishment (despite the fact that most kids are still spanked to this day).  I had every intention of spanking my own children.  When my daughter joined our family, though, my paradigm shifted in a dramatic way.  I didn't know what I wanted, or how I would discipline her when the time came, but I knew that spanking felt so very wrong.  The thought of raising my hand to my child with the intention of hurting her felt like a violation of every instinct in my body, all of which were screaming at me to protect this tiny person with everything that I had, up to and including my life.  I hoped that time outs and yelling would suffice (the only other punishments I ever received as a small child), but I was doubtful and kinda scared.

When my daughter entered the terrible twos I just about lost my mind.  She DID get spanked a couple of times because I just had no idea how to deal with her "misbehavior".  Time outs weren't working. I screamed myself hoarse sometimes and that didn't work either.  Then I had my son and things got even more complicated.  How do you teach a child to get along with their sibling?  How do you keep a two year old from destroying the house, herself or your sanity while you are tied to the rocking chair, nursing a newborn?  Spanking was all I knew, all my mother knew, and that's the answer I got when I asked her for advice.  I was being too soft, duh.  How would she know how to behave if I didn't teach her with an iron fist?  However, the more I tried to control her, the more frustrated we both became.

I turned to my friends.  None of their kids were spanked.  None of them were even getting time out.  And all of them were totally normal, happy, healthy kids.  They threw fits sometimes, but certainly no more than any other child I'd ever seen.  They listened to their mothers and they seemed to work together as a family rather than having the soul-destroying power struggle I was dealing with.  I asked them for help.  The answer I got was astonishing.  "Relax.  Change your attitude and adjust your expectations."

Huh?  Needless to say, I rejected that advice out of hand.  Obviously they had no idea who I was dealing with here.  Their kids must be perfectly behaved Stepford children or something because there is no way LESS control was going to help my kid.

The months passed and tensions mounted in our house.  When Max would come home at night I was laughing maniacally to myself, banking my head in the corner and Rhapsody had run amok all day long.  Nothing got done, everything was a Herculean feat.  It was terrible.

I kept getting advice from people who cared about me.  I was so conflicted.  On the one hand, my family kept saying I needed to gain control.  I needed to be more stubborn, harsher, more consistent with punishments.  On the other I had people with kids who were pacific, happy and well adjusted (which is not how the kids in my family ever acted), telling me to let go a little, change my outlook, see my daughter as a person with good intentions rather than an inconvenience to be managed.  "Then stop doing it," they would say with a good-natured shrug when I said time outs weren't working.  "Work on parenting more gently."  I would think "Time out IS gentle!"  I was so frustrated.  It seemed like so much work to stop time outs.  I asked for alternatives and got nebulous answers about changing my expectations.  Which was even more frustrating.  I knew something had to change, though.

So, I tried it.  Instead of screaming because my daughter didn't listen when I told her to do something, I tried to put myself in her shoes.  And the more I did it, the more I realized that she was smarter, better intentioned and more mature than I had ever given her credit for.  From my perspective, when she dumped out the entire container  of oatmeal, she was making a huge mess.  From her perspective, she was learning to do what mommy did.  From my point of view, when she tried to run away in the parking lot, she was putting herself in mortal danger when I was least able to protect her (getting a tiny baby out of his car seat and into the carrier takes finesse!).  From her perspective she was trying to help me by getting to the store first.

Every time I have backslid into my old habits I have paid for it.  Imriel (my son) was listening to no one and playing at the top of the stairs or otherwise putting himself or his sister in danger of bodily harm and got a small handful of spankings before I fully realized what we were doing.  His behavior during that time never improved, and he acted out in more and more ways until we stopped the spanking and sat down and came up with other solutions before he could get into trouble.  "He likes to play at the top of the stairs, how about we get a baby gate?"

The more I have turned to other, gentler methods of parenting (talking with them, explaining, giving fewer opportunities for trouble making, more opportunities for constructive play and time outside and cuddles...) the better our family has worked.  And the more I have thought of things like "What other person is it okay to hit?"  Spouses aren't allowed to hit each other to show who's boss.  Employers aren't allowed to hit employees.  We don't cuff the cashier for being rude.  All of those are examples of assault.  Who else do we scream at?  We are considered grossly out of line if we scream at a waiter for getting our order wrong.  Why is it okay to scream at a kid for exploring their world (which is their freaking job)?  I feel like we have come to see children as less than people.  We treat them like animals.  I have treated my own children like animals.  I treated them with less respect than I gave strangers in the grocery store.  Who else do we treat in such a manner?

When we realize that children are people (just like the cashier or waiter or perfect stranger) capable of learning socially acceptable behavior through modeling, talking, encouragement and love it makes absolutely no sense that they are so often hit, berated, disrespected and lorded over.  Parents are naturally leaders of their children, we don't HAVE to establish control.  They look up to us, they emulate us.  They learn to respect others as they are respected.

There is a plethora of evidence of the harms spanking does to children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it.  The American Psychiatric Association recommends against it.  And still most American children are spanked.  I know how hard it seems.  I know how impossible it seems to get a child to act appropriately without control over them.  I know it seems like so much work when you have so little left to give to your kids.  You're frustrated drained and tired at the end of the day, your patience fraying.  I'm telling you that giving up the illusion of control (because the only person you can truly control is yourself) makes it easier.  It seems impossible. It's not.  It gets a little harder and then like magic it gets better.  There are still frustrations.  There are still hard days.  Times you want to pull your hair out.  It feels so liberating, though, for your whole family.

Get to know your kids as people.  Give it a chance.  Try to understand where they are coming from when they do things that drive you nuts and I promise your paradigm will shift too.

1 comment:

  1. :) Yeah, it's tough to not get crazy mad at little people, like they're *obviously* just being little punks to get under your skin. It's not easy to stop and take time for a quick meaningful conversation when he steps out of line, but Jude is really much more apt to actually listen to me when he knows what I expect of him and why.

    We have certain "non-negotiables," too. And really anything can turn into a non-negotiable if it's a specific, every-time-this-happens kind of directive, like holding hands in the parking lot or not touching the stove when Mommy's cooking type stuff. Having those already explained and discussed with Jude about how there's specific reasons these things happen the way Mommy or Daddy say thrm, "you'll get hurt," "you'll get sick," "Mommy woud be sad," has really made just about all of things we've labeled non-negotiables never - I mean *never* - contested by our 2 1/2 year old wildfire. Really quite amazing. :)